“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” - Muriel Rukeyser.
Speaking the truth always has the power to split things open. Hearing truth spoken this week opened my heart…
I’m going to talk about social trouble in this entry. And an Oakland city council chamber. And a San Francisco soup kitchen. And experiences that many of you may never encounter. But all of this is germane to our lives. Why? Because we all have our own experiences. There is some event, for all of us, that breaks through our isolation and connects us firmly to someone we’ve never even met. This is a long story about love.
To act with love, in my experience, can mean caring deeply, offering help, listening intently, and setting good boundaries. Last Tuesday at the soup kitchen I got to do all four. With the same person. I started off by carrying a plate of food to a table for a thin white woman, likely in her late 60s. At the kitchen, where people have hard lives, it is often hard to determine age. She was already burdened and seemed less than steady, which is why I offered. I got her water, and listened for awhile to her harrowing tale, uncertain if it was true or if she just needed some attention. No matter. Either way, I made some time, then enjoined her to eat lunch, and went back to serving salad. Later that day, I had to escort her off the premises after she almost got into a fight with another guest. All of these actions were based on my attempts to love.
Sometimes love also spurs us toward irrational acts. Something in us is moved to do, or be, or speak. This happened to me Tuesday afternoon when I discovered there was a city council meeting happening in Oakland in which the family of slain Alan Blueford would speak. It was foolish for me to think I could attend. I had a 5 pm client and the meeting began at 6. I also had a conference call scheduled for 8pm. It would have been prudent to stay home, work, and eat dinner. Something inside me knew I couldn't. Instead, I quickly ate before my 5pm appointment, rushing to city hall after, on the train, arriving around 6:15. My spirit was goading me on. Upon arrival, the chambers were closed, doors blocked by police. People milled around, watching a captioned screen, talking quietly at the top of the grand staircase. Had I done all of this for nought? Then someone said there was room upstairs in the gallery, so up I went.
It was worth it. Not only was it good for the chambers to be packed in support of the family – letting the city of Oakland know that this case, this life, was of consequence – but it was good for me, personally, to be there. Compelled by some irrational force, my soul knew that what I needed was to hear the heart rending words of Alan’s mother, father, cousin, grandfather, aunt. It was important for me to hear the community cry out in anger and pain. It was important for my heart to break open.
“Alan Blueford was a light in this world.” - Jeralyn Blueford
Alan Blueford’s case is tragic, but likely no one outside the San Francisco Bay Area has even heard of him. Why? Alan is just another young, bright, black man killed by the police. It doesn’t matter that he was getting ready to graduate high school. It doesn't matter that he had spoken with his mother before leaving the house. What matters is that the situation started because he was a young black man waiting for a ride on a corner with other young black men. The fact that this is all so commonplace as to not be news is part of the tragedy.
As a white woman from the poor and working classes, now living a middle class life, intellectually, I have known all of this. Intellectually, I have known that young black men are killed each day, and that our prisons overflow with men of color, warehoused in a deck-stacked, racist system. Intellectually I have known that a parent must feel anguish at the killing of a child. But I had never before wept upon hearing the pain of these parents as they spoke and as they cried.
In these times there is more tragedy than we can fathom so we numb ourselves in order to feel less. In these times, it is paramount that our hearts split open on occasion, connecting us with one another in ways that surpass all divisions. We must find a way to love, for without love, there is seldom justice. Without love, none of us stand a chance. Without love, Alan Blueford is just another lost life. We must – I must – consistently enter love's presence.
What moves you? What opens you? What connects you? What cracks the hardened shell of despair, anger, complacency, or numbness? What is your city council chamber, or soup kitchen? What fills you with the flow of love?
Find that. Share that. Try to live that. Please, use the comments section to tell us what connects you to your soul and to the world. Every connection helps repair what feels broken.
May God Herself flow through us.
For Alan's family, I offer my sorrow and my prayers. May we all work to bring justice. I'll continue to attempt that, too.
And to Brandy Martell, who’s name was also spoken in those chambers, may the murder of trans women also cease some day. Too many of your sisters have fallen. May there be love and justice for your lost life, as well.